April 25, 2018
Alexa is headed to the kids' room.
On Wednesday, Amazon (AMZN) unveiled a kid-friendly version of its popular smart speaker featuring its voice assistant Alexa.
The Echo Dot Kids Edition plays music, answers questions and comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited, which offers access to kid-friendly books and ad-free radio stations.
The colorful gadgets -- which come in protective cases of either blue, red or green -- are loaded with parental controls. Parents can set time limits for use and pre-select which services kids can access. It's also possible to block songs with inappropriate lyrics and shut off its ability to purchase items from the internet.
Similar to the grownup version of the Amazon Echo Dot, Alexa will answer your questions, but the responses on the newer device are tailored to a younger audience. Ask Alexa if Santa is real on the new device, and it'll respond: "I haven't met him, but if I do, I want to ask about Rudolph's nose."
Amazon is also partnering with companies such as Disney and Nickelodeon to offer games, themed alarm clocks and stories.
But these features don't come cheap. At $79.99, The Echo Dot Kids Edition is $30 more than the adult version.
Amazon unveils colorful Echo Dot for kids
Although Amazon has put some measures in place like parental controls, the always-listening device for kids is sure to raise privacy concerns.
"Amazon has created some kid-specific benefits but does anyone need or want Amazon developers to have access to all the sounds your children make?" said Sucharita Kodali, a vice president at research firm Forrester. "These devices are very troubling, and consumers have no idea what is being captured about them, where it's stored, who has access to the information, and how it is or could be used."
An Amazon spokeswoman told CNN the device, like its other Echo speakers, only listens for the wake word "Alexa." Parents can also listen to archives of their child's voice requests via Alexa app and delete them individually or all at once. It's possible to disconnect the microphones by pressing the mute button.
The new product doesn't come as too much of a surprise. Amazon offers a Fire tablet for kids, and some parents already use smart speakers to play podcasts for a screen-free alternative for kids.
Amazon isn't the only company courting young users. Earlier this year, Facebook received backlash from child development advocates over its new Messenger Kids app. The standalone messaging app, targeted at children ages six to 12, allows kids to chat with friends and make video calls. Facebook (FB) said it has put safeguards in place to keep the platform safe and private.
The Echo Dot Kids Edition is now available for pre-order and starts shipping on May 9.
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